The No-Holds Barred, Deception-Filled Campaign

Political advertisements are notorious for being misleading about politicians’ records. It’s the name of the game: Build up your candidate, tear down the opponent. It’s what given us iconic political attacks like the Willie Horton ad and Hillary Clinton’s 3 a.m. commercial.

This year, though, the political season has reached a new low, going beyond stretching the truth and into outright falsehoods. Paul Ryan’s campaign speech was widely pilloried for, as the New York Times noted, “several statements that were incorrect, incomplete or incompatible with his own record in Congress.” Meanwhile, Harry Reid’s totally unsubstantiated claim that Mitt Romney hasn’t paid taxes in 10 years is, as the Washington Post pointed out, worthy of “four Pinocchios.”

Not surprisingly, political advertisements are no better during this election. Romney’s claim that Obama has stopped the work requirement for welfare recipients isn’t true. Neither is the Obama ad claiming that Romney opposes all abortions, even exceptions for rape, incest, or the health of the mother. This political season is making Willie Horton look like good, old fashioned mud-slinging.

“Everyone is out there with a different set of facts, a different set of assumptions, and a different set of accusations about the opposition,” says John Carroll, a professor of mass communication at Boston University and the writer of political media blog “There’s no common ground. There’s not even a foundation for an argument. They’re living in parallel universes.”

And there’s little, Carroll pointed out, that the networks can actually do to stem the falsehoods in political advertising, given that rejecting a candidate’s ad is against federal law and gets uncomfortably close to violating free speech. “If the federal government starts turning [broadcasters] into hall monitors, I think that’s going to run afoul of the First Amendment.”

Carroll is hopeful that fed-up voters will punish a candidate for running negative ads. But in the meantime, the rest of us need someone to get on the case and build an app that could fact-check the veracity of campaign ads. Little “Truth!” or “Lie!” bubbles could pop up as you’re watching the latest Romney, Obama, or Super PAC ad, with links to the places where they’ve been fact-checked.

As legendary Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.”